Friday, November 30, 2018


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

What's this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two? 

3.  What movie is this?

It is a classic film noir by the acclaimed Fritz Lang.  It was based on the novel of Graham Greene which is noirier than the screenplay.  The movie was released in 1944 and is black and white.  It is partly Lang’s reaction to Nazis dominance of Europe.  Lang, a German, had been offered a job in the Ministry of Propaganda by Josef Goebbels and immediately fled from Germany.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

BOOK / MOVIE: Flight of the Intruder (1986 / 1991)

                In 1984, the Naval Institute Press published its first novel – The Hunt for Red October.  Due to the success of that book, it decided to wade in again two years later with Dean Koontz’s Flight of the Intruder.  Koontz had spent nine years on active duty in the Navy which included two combat tours in Vietnam on board the USS Enterprise.  He flew A-6 Intruders and accrued 305 carrier landings, including 100 at night.  The Intruder was a bomber that was used for ground support, flak suppression, and general purpose targets.  It was the Navy equivalent of the Air Force’s F-105.  The Navy lost 84 during the war.  10 were shot down by surface to air missiles (SAMs) and 56 were lost to ground fire and anti-aircraft artillery.  The last plane lost, to ground fire on a ground support mission, was piloted by Lt. C.M. Graf.  He and his bombardier were rescued by helicopter.  The Navy gave full cooperation for the film version of the book.  Director John Milius (who wrote the first version of “Apocalypse Now”) was given access to naval facilities and allowed to film on the USS Independence.  The Independence’s fire crew dealt with numerous small fires created by the lighting.  Four A-6s modified to look like their 1972 versions were provided with their crews.  In exchange for the cooperation, the Navy vetted the script and suggested minor accuracy changes and nixed a scene where the main character smoked marijuana.  In general, the Navy was hands-off as it was hoping to replicate the recruiting boost it had gotten from “Top Gun”.  That did not happen.

                The movie opens with a title card that informs us that the A-6 was the Navy’s main medium attack bomber.  It delivered its ordinance at tree-top level in any weather.  It had no defensive weaponry.  The movie opens in September, 1972.  A lone Intruder piloted by Lt. “Cool Hand” Grafton (Brad Johnson) is on a night mission to bomb a suspected truck park.  After wasting costly bombs to blow up some trees, the plane heads back to the carrier with a frustrated crew.  Frustration turns to tragedy as a North Vietnamese farmer fires a once in a million shot at the Intruder and hits the bombardier “Morg”.  Another good American lost to a useless target.  This establishes the theme of the movie.  The rules of engagement prevent men like Grafton from hitting worthwhile targets in Hanoi.  Politicians are calling the shots and not allowing the aviators to win the war.  Grafton’s gruff boss, Commander Campanelli (Danny Glover), sends him off to Subic Bay for some R&R and to get his mind off his best buddy’s death.  He has a tryst with Callie (Rosanna Arquette) and meets his new bombardier “Tiger” Cole (Willem Defoe).  After some more hairy missions and the loss of another mate, Grafton and Cole decide to hell with the ROEs.  They will disobey orders and attack SAM City (a park where the missiles are lined up like the aircraft at Hickam Field on Dec. 7,1941) in the middle of Hanoi.  It will probably mean court-martial, but it will sure feel good to get revenge. 
                “Flight of the Intruder” is a competent air combat movie, but it does not break any new ground.  It has none of the flair of “Top Gun”, but it is also not silly like much of that movie.  It is a half-hearted attempt to recreate the magic of that movie.  Although it was big budget, it does not come off that way.  The cast is fine, but Brad Johnson is no Tom Cruise.  Willem Defoe and Danny Glover take acting honors in meaty roles whereas Johnson is bit stiff.  The movie includes David Schwimmer’s acting debut, but he and the other supporting actors are not memorable.  The soundtrack does not reach high altitude and the dialogue also stays on the ground.  One curious diversion from the “Top Gun” playbook is the cursory romance between Grafton and Callie.  Rosanna Arquette is miscast as Callie, but the romance is so brief that it makes no difference.  The real star is the A-6, of course.  It is a photogenic plane and considering its role and accomplishments in the war, it deserved this movie.  The movie pares down the book’s numerous missions to five, but the five are nicely done and suspenseful.  They also do a good job as a tutorial for SAM suppression, low level bombing, and rescue missions. Unfortunately, the special effects are not up to the plane.  Hanoi is obviously a model and the overblown fireworks when SAM City is hit are embarrassing.  In your face, Jane Fonda!

                Milius is a noted hawk when it comes to Vietnam.  He was upset when Coppola “adjusted” his “Apocalypse Now” script, turning it into a hippy opus.  He meant for “Flight” to be anti-politicians rather than anti-war.  Surprisingly, he does not hammer his theme that the rules of engagement prevented our fighting men from winning.  It is clear from the movie that the war was not wrong, it was the way we fought it.  That argument could be made, but it is not effectively propounded in a film that is so full of clichés.  Hell, Milius even throws in the bar fight war movie fans have seen a million times.  Grafton is the stereotypical rogue warrior who gets away with insubordination by succeeding.  Cole is the man with a past who is allowed to redeem himself through self-sacrifice.  A character dies after showing off his newborn.  Nothing surprising happens in the movie, but this can be comforting if you just want to watch an old-fashioned aerial combat movie.  Or if you have some nostalgia for “Top Gun”, “Bridges at Toko-Ri”, “The Blue Max”, etc.

*** SPOILER ALERT  The following segment will compare the book’s plot to the movie. 

                The novel opens with the same mission that results in the death of Morg.  The movie replicates the mission very accurately.  From here, the movie cuts a lot from the book. The novel has a lot of missions and a nice variety of them.  For instance, Jake has to fly a tanker on a dark and rainy night.  In another, they bomb a MiG base.  Most significantly in advancing Koontz’s theme is a mission where Jake drops bombs on a squad of Viet Cong hiding in the jungle!  The war in a nutshell.  The details of activities such as refueling, takeoffs, and landings are what you would expect from a veteran A-6 pilot.   The missions Milius chose to depict are fairly close to the book, except the last one.  The film wisely changes the rogue mission to the attack on SAM City.  Although, the collateral explosions are silly, it is a cinematically fulfilling improvement over the book’s attack on the boring National Assembly building, which they don’t even hit!  The aftermath is similar in the movie with the court-martial aborted by Nixon’s decision to start bombing Hanoi. The last mission in the book is not a redemptive ride to the rescue of Campanelli.  Jake and Cole are on a flak suppression mission and Jake decides to continue to the target in spite of losing an engine and even comes around for a second approach after his bombs don’t drop.  They bail out and Cole is badly wounded.  A Skyraider pilot is shot down and it is he that calls in bombs on his position because he knows he’s a goner.  Jake shoots several North Vietnamese soldiers to rescue Cole and a helicopter picks them up. 

                The movie changes several characters.  Callie is not a pilot’s widow.  She is hippieish and the romance takes up a substantial amount of the book.  Koontz has them touring the city and talking a lot.  She is a much more interesting character than the woman in the movie.  On the other hand, the Cole of the book is not as interesting.  He is given no back-story and is even more laconic.  Most likely the role was tailored to Willem Defoe, which was wise.  Campanelli is the same except that it was felt necessary in the movie to explain why a black man could have that last name.  Fans of Lundeen in the book will be disappointed by his demotion.  In the movie, the Phantom Shitter turns out to be the librarian so that Jake can blackmail him into helping with the rogue mission.  And Jake fails flying the beast at the Tailhook Bar in the book.  Lundeen succeeds.  There is no bar fight, by the way. 

                In this case, the book is better than the movie.  Koontz can be a bit tedious in his hammering at his theme that the men are dying over useless targets.  I guess you can’t blame him for getting on his soapbox since he lived through the frustration.  At least he doesn’t fulfill his wet dreams by having Jake and Cole altering the course of the war by blowing up the communist National Assembly building.  He manages to hit every type of mission an A-6 might participate in.  The missions are exciting.  Jake is more likeable and although in the tradition of stereotypical hot shot pilots, flawed and not a superhero.  He even has some PTSD problems that the movie completely omits.  The romance with Callie is realistic and she is not presented as an anti-war balance to Jake.  In spite of her, the book is still very much a manly tale.

BOOK  =  B

Monday, November 26, 2018

CONSENSUS #97 To Hell and Back

SYNOPSIS: "To Hell and Back" is the Audie Murphy story starring the hero himself. It is essentially Murphy's "greatest hits" and covers the major incidents in his career starting in Sicily and leading up to the climactic Medal of Honor moment in Southern France.  Although a biopic, the movie does have a squad feel to it as Murphy leads a typical cinematic heterogeneous unit.  There are several good battle scenes.

BACK-STORY: To Hell and Back is an autobiopic released in 1955. It is based on the book by the same name. It stars Audie Murphy as himself. It was his 16th movie. He had come to Hollywood after WWII at the urging of his friend James Cagney. This movie was his biggest hit in a career dominated by B westerns. He also starred in the acclaimed war movie version of The Red Badge of Courage. Murphy was reluctant to play himself because it smacked of self-promotion. He wanted Tony Curtis for the role. Studio execs and friends convinced him to take the part. They were right.

The movie was a critical and box office success. In fact, it was Universals biggest hit until Jaws. It was not a hit with Murphy, however. He felt that even though he had acted as technical adviser and tried to get things right, the studio sanitized the blood and gore of combat. He also felt the movie muted the unpleasantness of war and the negative emotions it brings out. He noted that the climate conditions that he actually fought in (mud, rain, snow) were usually depicted as nice, sunny weather.

TRIVIA:  imdb, Wikipedia, TCM
1.  In the Medal of Honor scene, Murphy was actually on a M10 tank destroyer, not a M4 Sherman.
2.  Murphy did not want to play himself because he thought it would come off as too egotistical.  He wanted his friend Tony Curtis.
3.  The production used 50,000 rounds of ammunition, 300 pounds of TNT, 600 pounds of blasting powder, and 10 cases of dynamite for the battle scenes.
4.  The movie was a huge hit and was Universal Pictures top film until “Jaws”.
5.  Audie Murphy in “To Hell and Back” was the inspiration for Rambo.
6.  The movie popularized the term “dogface”.
7.  It is still the only biopic that stars a movie star as himself.
8.  Murphy wanted to make a sequel called “The Way Back”, but could not get the financing.
9.  It was Murphy’s sixteenth film.
10.  Murphy was the technical adviser and was very hands-on in getting everything realistic.
11.  Murphy did not like the finished product and referred to it as a “Western in uniform”.  He was angry about the battle scenes being filmed in nice weather when the reality was worse.  He did not want the film to close with the Medal of Honor ceremony.  (He had left it out of the book.)  He generally felt the movie was not gritty enough and did not explain why he suffered from PTSD.
12.  Murphy was tabbed to be the villain in “Dirty Harry” when he died in the plane crash.

Belle and Blade  =  4.5
Brassey’s              =  2
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  3.8
Military History  =  #77
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:   “To Hell  and Back” is a classic WWII movie.  Although it is rife with the usual clichés and stock characters, it is special because of the involvement of Audie Murphy.  Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of the war, deserved to have his story told and the fact that he stars as himself is unique.  It was a huge hit, but now seems a bit outdated in comparison with the more realistic and gritty films that began to hit the screen in the 1960s.  For instance, you get little of the reasons why Murphy was haunted by PTSD the rest of his life. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

MAKING PATTON by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes

                I recently watched “Patton” on the big screen for the first time since It was released in 1970.  To make the viewing even more memorable I read Making Patton by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes.  It is a fascinating look at everything involving the film.  Needless to say, it was not an easy film tp make.  As I read, I jotted down interesting facts to share with my readers.  Enjoy!

1.  George C. Scott did not want the speech at the start of the movie because he felt it would be hard to top.
2.  Producer Frank McCarthy graduated from VMI and eventually rose to be George Marshall’s chief aide.  He met Patton several times.  He planned FDR’s funeral.  The was Assistant Secretary of State under Truman.  He suffered several nervous breakdowns due to overwork.  He went to work for Hollywood mogul Darryl Zanuck.  He was co-producer on “Decision Before Dawn”. 
3.  Columbia Pictures wanted to make the movie in 1950, but Beatrice Patton nixed the deal because the family hated the media for its role in Patton’s controversies.  She died in 1953, but the children shared her opposition to any film about their father.  In 1961, McCarthy got himself assigned as assistant to the chief of information, US Army and got the Army to approve the project for 20th Century Fox with requiring family approval.  The family hired a lawyer to try to derail the project, which didn’t happen, but did result in a better script.  The family ended up liking the finished film.
4.  McCarthy’s first choice was Burt Lancaster.  The studio wanted John Wayne.  Zanuck suggested Scott.
5.  The near bankruptcy of 20th Century due to “Cleopatra” set the project back several years.
6.  When Ladislas Farago’s book Ordeal and Triumph, 20th Century bought the rights and Zanuck took up the project and assigned David Brown to produce.  McCarthy was  brought on board.  Calder Willingham wrote a treatment that was not wedded to accuracy.  McCarthy was disappointed and hired Francis Ford Coppola.  McCarthy watched over his shoulder and they collaborated.  Ed North revised the script.  He did not collaborate with Coppola.  He added historical accuracy and cut a scene involving Patton’s disastrous attempt to rescue his son-in-law from a German prison because he rightfully felt it cancelled the vibe from the Bastogne segment.
7.  Director Franklin Schaffner was coming off “Planet of the Apes”.  He insisted the studio remove the subtitle “Blood and Guts”.
8.  Shooting began in Spain 17 years, 3 months, and 11 days after McCarthy had first proposed the project.
9.  72 locations were used.
10.  A total of eight days were lost to Scott’s drinking.  It did not help that James Edwards (Meeks) was an alcoholic who instigated and facilitated Scott’s binges.  McCarthy filmed Edwards’ scenes early and then fired him.  He gave some of Edwards’ lines to others like Paul Stevens (Codham).  Karl Malden took on the task of dining with Scott and keeping liquor away.  Because of what he saw of the effects of alcohol on Scott, Malden gave up drinking.
11.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score is iconic, but there is only 30 minutes of music in the movie.
12.  Richard Nixon legendarily saw the movie dozens of times, but official White House records only confirm three.
13.  Schaffner and North claimed that the movie was anti-war (i.e., it takes a personality like Patton to win wars), but McCarthy insisted it was pro-Army.
14.  It was entitled “Patton:  Lust for Glory” in Great Britain where it got good reviews in spite of the portrayal of Montgomery.
15.  It seems likely that the two mules were actually euthanized before they were dumped over the bridge.

Here is the speech

Friday, November 23, 2018

CONSENSUS #98 - Mrs. Miniver (1942)

SYNOPSIS:  “Mrs. Miniver” is a romance drama set in WWII Great Britain in 1940.  The Miniver family is upper class and lives in a mansion outside a typical British village.  Eldest son Vin woos the daughter of the local doyen.  She is opposed to the marriage.  Vin joins the Royal Air Force and becomes a fighter pilot.  Father Clem (Walter Pidgeon) participates in the “little boats” rescue from Dunkirk.  Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) holds down the mansion and even has a confrontation with a downed German pilot.  The movie builds to the climactic rose competition.

BACK-STORY:   “Mrs. Miniver” is an American movie directed by William Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives”).  It was based on the novel by Jan Struther which was published in 1940.  The screenplay was constantly adjusted during production to reflect developments in the war.  It was a massive hit in America and Britain and was the box office champ for 1942.  A sequel entitled “The Miniver Story” was released in 1950.  Garson and Pidgeon reprised their roles.

TRIVIA:  imdb, wikipedia

1. Soon after the movie was finished, Greer Garson married her movie son Richard Nay. The marriage lasted four years.
2. Winston Churchill claimed the movie was equivalent to a fleet of destroyers.
3. The Vicar’s speech at the end (called the Wilcoxon speech after the actor – who cowrote it with director William Wyler) was printed in Look and Time magazines. FDR encouraged its broadcasting on Voice of America and the dropping of it in leaflet form over occupied Europe.
4. Wyler was a Jew born in Germany and knew the stakes. He saw the movie as a pro-intervention piece.
5. After the movie was completed, Wyler joined the Signal Corps (see the documentary entitled “Five Came Back” on Netflix).  He made the documentaries “Memphis Belle” and “Thunderbolt”.  He flew missions in B-17s and once passed out from lack of oxygen.  He became partially deaf in one ear due to the noise he encountered filming P-47s.  Based on what he saw in WWII, he later commented that he felt the movie was too wimpy.
6. It was the first movie with five acting nominations - Garson won for Best Actress and Teresa Wright won for Supporting Actress. Walter Pidgeon was nominated for Actor (losing to Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”) and May Whitty and Henry Travers for supporting roles. The movie won for Best Picture, Director, and Black and White Cinematography.  It was nominated for Special Effects, Editing, and Sound Recording.
7. Garson did not want to play the lead because she did not want to play a mother. Her contract obligated her to take the part.
8. This was the second of eight movies that Pidgeon and Garson made together.
9. The movie script was constantly being rewritten during filming to reflect the changing fortunes of the Allies. For instance, Mrs. Miniver’s confrontation with the German pilot got increasingly belligerent and ended up including Miniver slapping him (after Pearl Harbor).
10. Joseph Goebbels admired the movie’s effectiveness as propaganda.
11.  Greer Garson’s Academy Awards speech was over 30 minutes long and led to limits on the length of speeches.

Belle and Blade  =  3
Brassey’s              =  3.8
Video Hound       =  3.4
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #79
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  “Mrs. Miniver” was the perfect movie for its time and yet it holds up very well.  It came out at the time when America was just entering the war and although it reflects the interventionist spirit before Pearl Harbor, it gave Americans inspiration as the long road loomed.  It is highly crafted propaganda, but it does not bludgeon you.  The cast is sterling and the performances are solid, if a bit overrated.  It is a series of vignettes that give each main character a chance to shine and the episodes manage to hit on iconic moments, like sitting out a bombing raid in a cellar.  There is also a tear-jerking death to make sure the audience recognizes that the war will have tragedy.  As a war home front movie, it is one of the best and a great companion for Wyler’s post-war home front flick “The Best Years of Our Lives”.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Picture, Quote, Movie #44

1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

“At the next war let all the Kaisers, presidents and generals and diplomats go into a big field and fight it out first among themselves.”

3.  What movie is this?

It is a western/war movie released in 1949.  It was the second of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy and the only one in color.  The other two were “Fort Apache” and “Rio Grande”.  All three starred John Wayne.  The movie was set in Monument Valley.  Ford used the paintings of Frederick Remington for inspiration and ideas.  The title is a song associated with the U.S. Cavalry and alludes to the cavalryman giving his love a yellow ribbon.  One of the stars is the horse “Steel” ridden by Ben Johnson.  This horse was popular with western stars.  The movie was awarded the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography to Winton Hoch.  The film was a big hit.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE? Go For Broke (1951)

                “Go for Broke” is an Old School movie about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  The unit, which consisted of Nisei volunteers, was the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in the U.S. Army in WWII.  The movie was written and directed by Robert Pirosh.  Pirosh was a veteran of the war in Europe.  He famously wrote the screenplay for “Battleground”.  His screenplay for “Go for Broke” was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  The movie included many veterans from the 442nd, including some of the main roles.  It was a box office success and was big in Japan of all places.

                “Go for Broke” is a typical small unit movie.  It starts in training camp, which is Camp Shelby in Mississippi in 1943.  The platoon gets a new leader in Lt. Grayson (Van Johnson).  He looks like he has a turd mustache as he scans his “Japs”.  He immediately requests a transfer.  His C.O. is a bleeding-heart liberal who does not take kindly to Grayson asking if they use live ammunition on the rifle range.  (What an odd racist taunt!)  Grayson is clearly in need of redemption.  His first visit to the barracks makes it obvious that he is a racist martinet.  But he’s also Van Johnson, so you know that won’t last.  Queue the training montage.  Then it’s off to Italy.  Grayson meets an Italian girl because there has to be a female on the movie poster.  Marching and fighting montage.  This leads up to a nice combat scene highlighted by Tommy (Henry Nakamura) filling his helmet with dirt and sticking a mortar tube in it to lob some shells.  Can you do that?  Then it’s off to France and the celebrated rescue of the “Lost Battalion” (not that Lost Battalion). 

                “Go for Broke” is competently done.  It is above average for its ilk.  You can tell this partly because the deaths are not the silly, touchdown signaling twirls that you normally see in movies like this.  In fact, it has some heart-tugging deaths, which is appropriate for a unit that had a very high casualty rate.  The acting is surprisingly good considering key roles went to amateurs who were veterans of the unit.  Van Johnson is his usual reliable self.  Young ladies, he was the George Clooney of that era!  Tommy has a pig that gives one of the best performances by a pig in a war movie.

                “Go for Broke” follows the small unit template closely.   Grayson is the leader who warms to his charges.  There is a core group that includes a malcontent.  You would be upset too if you had to leave your lucrative chicken-sexing job to join the Army.  That’s right, Chick (George Miki) was making $500 a month determining the sex of newborn chicks.  It turns out Nisei soldiers have similar banter as other soldiers.  They also have humorous moments like in other Old School WWII movies, except that some of it is actually funny.  Not LOL, of course.  Some of the humor comes from Grayson narrating from travel pamphlets as they move through picturesque Italy and France.  Nice touch.

                The script is a bit odd.  There are only allusions to the internment of the Nisei families so there is little irony in the film.  Actually, the movie starts with an unintentially ironic quote from FDR about how “Americanism is a matter of mind and heart”, not race!  I wonder what the 442nd veterans thought of that.  You don’t really end up with a feeling of shame when you watch the film.  The movie also strangely short-changes the unit’s sterling record.  You get little impression why it was so decorated.  The action scenes are good, but not big.  For instance, the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” is nothing special and does not do a good job showing the extremely difficult nature of the battle.  The movie concentrates too much on the conventional redemption arc of Grayson and not enough on the achievements of the unit.  Still, it’s a likeable movie and you can’t say they blew their chance to recognize the unit.


HOW HISTORICALLY ACCURATE IS IT?   The 442nd was recruited mostly from Nisei living in Hawaii.  (It’s sister unit, the 100th Battalion, was mainly from the mainland camps.)  The men did refer to themselves as “Buddhaheads”.  The motto of the unit was “Go for Broke” which in the movie is said to mean “shoot the works”.  They were trained at Camp Shelby where the Nisei were shocked to witness segregation of blacks.  They landed at Naples and participated in the Anzio campaign.  In the move northward, they fought in numerous skirmishes.  They captured Hill 140 which became known as “Little Cassino”.  The unit was shipped to Southern France and it was back into heavy action in the forests of France.  Its most famous exploit was the rescue of a unit that had been cut off by the Germans.  It took a week to break through to the “Lost Battalion” and the 442nd suffered heavy casualties in their frontal attacks.  Unlike the movie, the conditions were a mixture of rain, snow, and mud.  The movie does not touch on the controversy of the unit being used as cannon fodder by Gen. Dahlquist.   After this blooding, the unit was shifted to the Riviera where it enjoyed several weeks of light action.  The men referred to this as the “Champagne Campaign”.  In March, 1945 most of the unit was sent back to Italy to help assault the Gothic Line.  Talk about a change of venue!  They had been specifically requested by Gen. Mark Clark.  The 442nd excelled in the hill fighting that pushed the Germans back in the closing weeks of the war.  The unit returned to America having been awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (one of which is shown by way of footage of Pres. Truman in the film).  One soldier, Sadao Munemori, was a posthumous Medal of Honor recipient for jumping on a grenade.  (In 2000, twenty other members were upgraded to Medals of Honor.)   

Thursday, November 15, 2018

CONSENSUS #99 Bridges at Toko-Ri

SYNOPSIS: "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" is an air combat movie set in the Korean War. The main character (William Holden) is a naval fighter-bomber pilot who has been drafted away from his idyllic family. The commander of his carrier (Frederic March) is a father figure who has to send men like him to their deaths for the good of the noncommunist world.  The climactic mission is a very dangerous one to take out some bridges in North Korea.  To remind you what Brubacher is risking, he is visited by his wife (Grace Kelly) on R&R in Japan.  Mickey Rooney has a showy role as a rescue helicopter pilot.

BACK-STORY: The Bridges at Toko-Ri is a war movie based on the novel by James Michener. The movie was released in 1955, just one year after the book was published. The movie was a hit and got an Oscar for Best Special Effects for John Fulton.  He used miniatures for the bridge attack. The producers had the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy which allowed the use of nineteen ships. The credits mention that the movie was made as a tribute to U.S. Navy pilots. William Holden and Grace Kelly had an affair during the filming.

            TRIVIA -  imdb, Wikipedia, TCM
1.  William Holden learned how to taxi a jet on the carrier deck for close-ups.
2.  The US Navy cooperated with 19 ships, including the USS Oriskany ( and when it was no longer available, the USS Kearsarge).  The Oriskany was later sunk as an artificial reef off Pensacola, Florida and is a popular diving site.
3.  James Michener wrote the novel after spending time on the USS Essex during the Korean War.  Neil Armstrong was a pilot at the time.  The incident involving the bombing of bridges and the rescue of a downed pilot was based on actual events.  However, the downed pilot and his attempted rescuer were actually captured and survived the war.
4.   Holden’s brother was a navy pilot in WWII who was killed in action.
5.  In the book, the jet is the F2H Banshee, not the F9F Panther.  The Panther was probably substituted because it was more photogenic.
6.  Holden insisted the novel’s ending be retained.  He did not want the typical Hollywood happy ending.  This worked well because although the movie came at the end of a wave of WWII/Korean War formulaic offerings, it stood out.
            7.  The movie won the Oscar for Best Special Effects and was nominated for Best Editing.
8.  Holden and Grace Kelly conducted an affair during the shoot.  This was not uncommon for him, even though     he was married.  When Kelly invited her to her home, her father shook his fist at Holden and evidenced his displeasure with the affair.  Holden left the house upset.  The affair did not continue after the movie was finished.
9.  Mickey Rooney got the role partly due to his friendship with Michener.  One day, Rooney was needed for an unscheduled scene, but could not be found.  He turned up later as co-pilot of a jet having bribed the pilot to fly him to Tokyo for the horse races.

Belle and Blade  =  2.5
Brassey’s              =  3
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  #73
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION: Although the novel is short, if you do not like to read this movie will give you the classic novels plot in cinema form. It follows the book religiously. It also accurately reflects the novels themes of self-sacrifice, loyalty, and the senselessness of war. But most significantly, the movie does not change the downer of an ending just to suit the audience. Kudos for that! In some ways it is the All Quiet of the Korean War.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

NOW SHOWING: Overlord (2018)

                I had been waiting for this movie for a while.  We don’t get many war movies these days and a war / horror hybrid sounded intriguing.  Actually, the movie is technically a mash-up of the commando raid subgenre and the zombie subgenre.  It came from the mind of co-producer JJ Abrams and was directed by Julius Avery.  It has gotten a major release and some positive reviews.

                A platoon of paratroopers is sent on a dangerous mission to destroy a radio jamming tower that could prevent air support for the D-Day invasion.  Like all other commando mission in war movie history, the mission is crucial to winning the war.  They jump in a totally gonzo scene where their transport plane is hit by anti-aircraft fire.  Only five of the unit (oops, make that four) survive to go after the radio tower.  They are led by the mysteriously laconic Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell) and include the everyman Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the wisecracking sniper Tibbet (John Magaro), and the useless combat photographer Chase (Iain De Gaestecker).  They hook up with a local female named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who will provide refuge in her house and intel on the village and nearby German compound.  It turns out that Chloe is being “kept” by the local evil Nazi Capt. Wafner (Pilou Asbaek).  She has an adorable younger brother Paul who is destined to be put in peril.  Boyce makes an unplanned recon of the German compound and discovers a secret laboratory where an evil scientist is developing a serum to create super-soldiers.  Not surprisingly, the serum has not been perfected yet and has some horrible side effects.  Saving the invasion’s air support becomes secondary to preventing an army of Nazi zombies.

                I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, but I recognize the clichés when I see them.  Specifically, there is a lot of “Aliens” in this movie.  The Chloe/Paul dynamic reminds of Ripley/Newt.  Heck, Chloe even gets to wield a flamethrower. Not that I am complaining.  Who doesn’t love a cinematic chick with a flamethrower?  “Overlord” breaks no new ground in the horror genre.  It also is rife with the standard commando mission clichés.  Mission creep.  Redemption of the jerk Tibbet.  Ticking bomb / save yourself.  Rescue someone before completing the mission.  It is all pretty predictable.  Fortunately, it is done with some verve, although nothing tops the opening scene.  Unfortunately, the monsters are nothing special and are nowhere near as bonkers as those in the similar “Frankenstein’s Army”.  The final act intercuts between your standard action pieces involving explosions and ammo-expenditure and the creepy corridor capers in the compound.  Firearms above ground, freakish forearms below.  There is some suspense and the action is continuous, but it does not have you watching through your fingers. 
                The movie is technically well-done, but it does have a B-movie feel to it.  This is in spite of some effort.  The opening drop scene used a C-47 model on a gimbal with stunt men.  Asbaek’s make-up took five hours.  The acting is clearly B-movie.  I applaud casting an African-American as Boyce (even though it is historically inaccurate to have a black paratrooper), but only if the actor is better than the alternative.  None of these actors will be moving on to A-movies.  The special effects are also B-movie.  It’s fun to see monsters in a war movie, but they did not make me reassess my lukewarm feelings toward horror movies.  I actually have seen a few horror war movies and “Overlord” is in the middle of the pack.  It is not as good as “Dead Snow” or “Dog Soldiers” and if you want to watch a similarly plotted movie, you would be better off with “Frankenstein’s Army”.  



Sunday, November 11, 2018

STREAMING: Outlaw / King (2018)

                Netflix recently blessed us with a war movie.  I originally got Netflix so I could watch an enormous amount of war movie DVDs.  Then Netflix started streaming some war movies.  And now, they are making some war movies!  We are truly living in a golden age.  Not counting everything else.  “Outlaw / King” was co-written, produced, and directed by David MacKenzie (“Hell or High Water”).  It was filmed in Scotland and England.  The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.  After that, MacKenzie cut twenty minutes.

                The movie leads with the claim that it is “based on historical events”.  It starts in Scotland in 1304.  Title cards inform us non-Scots that the Scots had recently rebelled against the occupation of King Edward I.  This rebellion was led by William Wallace.  But Wallace has been defeated and now the Scottish lords are prepared to submit to Edward.   At the siege of Stirling Castle, Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) joins other nobles in witnessing Edward’s triumph (facilitated by one bad-ass trebuchet hurling Greek fire) and then bending their knees.  Edward forces Robert to patch things up with John Comyn.  Exiting the tent, Robert is challenged to a frenemy duel by Prince Edward (Billy Howle).  Clanging within five minutes!  This is a good sign.  The king arranges a marriage between Robert and the daughter of a loyal ally.  Elizabeth (Florence Pugh) is comely, but Robert is either a gentleman or doesn’t like the political strings.  I couldn’t tell which.  But I could tell that this separate rooms situation would not last.  (That’s right, I’ve seen a movie.) Her feistiness will overcome his frostiness.  Just like his patriotism is going to overcome his placating.  If you are Scottish, you know where this is heading and are wondering how it will be depicted.  If you are an American, you are wondering how kick-ass the battles will be and whether the movie will live up to “Braveheart”.

                Let’s get this over with immediately.  It is not as good as “Braveheart”,  as entertainment.  Chris Pine plays Robert as lacking charisma.  He does have the saintly demeanor of Wallace.  Except when he murders his rival in a church of all places.  But he was justified and the clergy backed him, so keep cheering.  The romance with Elizabeth should not scare away the guys.  In fact, when they finally consummate, there is some Netflix Original nudity for both male and female viewers.  Florence Pugh is fine (both acting and body wise) as Elizabeth, but Pine doesn’t seem to be having much fun.  That might be appropriate because for the first three fourths of the movie, I wouldn’t give this guy’s problems to a monkey on a rock.  The movie definitely sets him up as a massive underdog against the all-powerful Edward (Stephen Dillane).  Unfortunately, those twenty cut minutes must have dealt with how he climbed out of the pit of despair.  The movie jumps from spider legend (you Scots will know what I am talking about) to rousing combat porn finale in the blink of an eye.  And then slaps on the obligatory romantic reunion.  The happily-ever-afters kick in pre-Bannockburn.  Maybe that’s where the twenty minutes were.

                “Outlaw / King” does not really engage the viewer.  The events are depicted without panache and Pine’s performance does not add spice.  To balance his morose portrayal, the charismatic James Douglas gets scene-chewing portrayal by Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Black Douglas deserves his own movie.  The battle scenes are the highlights and they are very graphic. Basically they are the melee style that you see in every modern medieval movie.  There is also a drawing and quartering to remind of “Braveheart” and top it grossness-wise.  Speaking of which, this is in some ways a sequel to that film.  Someone must have wanted to redeem Robert. And Edward and his son.  King Edward here is less supervillain and more Machiavellian medieval king.  Dillane’s Edward is much closer to the real Edward.  You will not recognize his son.  I am guessing that the real Prince Edward was somewhere between flaming and enflaming.  The movie makes a big mistake not concentrating on Valence as the main villain. 

                It turns out (see below for details) the movie is fairly accurate.  Certainly more than “Braveheart”, but what isn’t.  It tries hard to get the period details right.  There is a lot of mud.  Politics are also dirty.  Love will survive.  Scotland has some awesome scenery.  This all enfolds in an acceptably entertaining way.  I don’t want to discourage Netflix from making more war movies and I did learn a lot about a great warrior.  It turns out he is not the weasel “Braveheart” left us with.

                SPOILER ALERT! HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  (Keep in mind that I am not Scottish, so I may be off in some of this analysis.)  The movie starts in 1304 at the siege of Sterling Castle.  Nice touch having the huge trebuchet.  It was called Warwolf and was reputedly the largest trebuchet in history.  It is true that Edward postponed accepting the surrender until he could use it.  It seems unlikely it hurled Greek fire.  It did lob up to 300 pound rocks.  Edward did accept submission of the Scottish nobles at this time and Robert would have been one of them.  However, he had been on board for some time and (as “Braveheart” depicted) was basically allied with him.  Robert had a tense relationship with John Comyn.  Both wanted to be King of Scotland.  Comyn was the most powerful noble in Scotland and had more support due to his having been more consistently anti-British.  The movie downplays that Robert was less than patriotic before he rebelled.  Robert tried to broker an agreement with Comyn where Comyn would accept Robert as King in exchange for some concessions.  Apparently, Comyn ratted the Bruce out to Edward and Robert was forced to flee from the King’s court.  He returned to Scotland and arranged a meeting with Comyn.  The meeting was similar to what is depicted in the movie, except that Robert would have already known of Comyn’s duplicity, plus the murder may have been more due to the rivalry for power.
                After the murder (for such it was), Robert rushed to Bishop Wishart for absolution and the clergy came on board for the rebellion.  (Robert was excommunicated by the Pope.) He was hastily crowned king.  Robert’s rebellion was not really a response to Wallace’s death (since he was hardly a fan), but more the result of seeing the hand-writing on the wall with regard to Edward becoming increasingly suspicious of Robert.  Robert was already married to Elizabeth (since 1302) and although her father was an ally of Edward, I found no evidence that it was a political marriage.  (I don’t think Robert waited to consummate.)  Robert had a daughter named Marjory from his first marriage.

                The Battle of Methven is fairly close to reality.  Robert did face Valence (Earl of Pembroke) who was Edward’s military commander in Scotland.  He was sent with the vanguard and it was he that Edward instructed to raise the dragon banner.  The Prince followed later with the main army.  The Prince did take the Oath of the Swans, so that bizarre moment was reality!  Rpbert and Valence did meet the afternoon before and agreed to wait to the next day.  They did not agree to a duel.  Valence surprise attacked at dawn, but it was less perfidy than just taking advantage of Robert’s unbelievable lack of sentries or scouts.  It was a massed cavalry attack and probably did not involve fire arrows. 

                Robert escaped the disaster with around 500 men.  Along the road they encountered Jack Douglas as shown in the movie.  The movie does a good job showing Edward dissing Douglas earlier.  Douglas had petitioned for return of his lands, but when Edward learned who his father was, he threw him out.  The movie does a pretty good job with the Battle of Dalrigh which was when the MacDougalls ambushed Robert.  It was in a field, not on the shore.  According to legend, things were so hairy that at one point Robert avoided being dragged from his horse only by loosening his brooch and giving up his cloak.  This marked the low ebb as Robert sent his wife and daughter to KIldrummy Castle.  However, when the castle was besieged, she was no longer there.  She was captured at St. Dulhoc by the Earl of Ross who gave her to Edward.  Robert’s brother Niall was captured at Kildrummy and drawn and quartered, but not by Prince Edward.  The spider incident occurred during this period when Robert was on the run and taking refuge in caves, etc.  Supposedly he witnessed a spider trying several times to complete a web and recognized the moral of “if at first you don’t succeed”. 

                Robert inaugurated a guerrilla war that consisted of hit and run attacks.  He retook his own home and Douglas captured his own castle in the Douglas Larder incident where he and a small group of men slaughtered the garrison in the chapel.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Marjory were being held under house arrest.  Marjory was sent to a nunnery and Elizabeth was moved around periodically.  She never spent any time in a wooden cage, but this did happen to one of Robert’s sisters.  Robert built up his support with his successes in the guerrilla war and was ready to take on the king’s forces.  He faced off again with Valence at the Battle of Loudoun Hill. The Prince was not there.  The movie reenactment is acceptable. Robert did take advantage of marshy ground to funnel the British cavalry into his pikes and ditches.  Obviously, there was no duel at the end.  Edward I actually died after this battle.  Elizabeth was not reunited with Robert until 1314.

CONCLUSION:  My first take was that the movie was a misfire, but after looking at the history I am a little more forgiving.  Not that it is perfect historically.  It takes some major liberties, but most are artistic license that make sense.  I was particularly impressed with the inclusion of the Warwolf, the Oath of the Swans, and the Douglas Larder incident.  The three battles are fun and surprisingly accurate.  I abhor “Braveheart” and was hoping this movie would prove that a great movie could be made about the First War of Scottish Independence.  “Outlaw / King” is not a great movie.  But it is a war movie and it tries hard.